NHTSA Opens Formal Investigation into 2010 Prius Brakes; Parts Arrive at Dealerships to Fix Sticky Pedals

(LOS ANGELES, Feb. 4, 2010) – U.S. federal safety regulators announced today that they’ve opened a formal investigation of the 2010 Toyota Prius Hybrid for loss of braking due to a potential computer software problem while driving over road bumps, potholes or uneven road surfaces. 
 
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said its Office of Defects Investigation has received 124 reports from consumers regarding the 2010 Prius, including four reports alleging that crashes occurred, according to the announcement.  No fatalities were involved, according to news reports about the braking configuration that involves brake pads and a second system (called regenerative braking that uses the vehicle’s electric motor as a generator to recharge the batteries and improve the vehicle’s efficiency).  Prius’ computer braking software tells the car which system to use. Because of the software problem, a vehicle going 60 mph will have traveled nearly another 90 feet before the brakes begin to take hold.
 
The automaker changed its braking system software in January as part of what it called "constant quality improvements," but did not say what it would do about vehicles manufactured before then.
 
As of Thursday afternoon, there is no recall of Toyota Prius vehicles to address this issue. However, there are several news organizations reporting that Toyota will recall 270,000 Prius models worldwide to repair the brake problem. The Nikkei newspaper reports the recall will focus on the third-generation Prius models sold between May and December 2009. These reports have not been confirmed by Toyota or NHTSA at this time.
 
NHTSA also said that they’ve interviewed consumers regarding the braking issue and that they’ve conducted pre-investigatory field work of the vehicle which just became available last year. Only 37,000 of these 2010 Prius Hybrid vehicles are on the road in the U.S., the agency said.
 
The NHTSA consumer advisory also noted that the agency opens approximately 100 investigations annually, and that there are currently 40 open defect investigations, three of which involve Toyota Motor Corp.  The agency also said that its defect and compliance investigations have resulted in 524 recalls involving 23.5 million vehicles, making it one of the most active defect investigation programs in the world.
 
Toyota said today that it’s aware of NHTSA’s intention to begin an investigation centered on owner complaints of a braking issue with the 2010 model year Prius. Toyota will cooperate fully with NHTSA’s investigation.  The Japanese carmaker said the condition is not related to either the floor mat entrapment recall or the sticky pedal recall currently in action. 
 
The Prius is Toyota’s fourth-best selling vehicle in the U.S. 
 
Toyota also announced today that it has expanded a braking system-related safety probe into all its hybrid models such as the Lexus HS250h and SAI luxury hybrid sedans (the SAI is a redesign of the Lexus HS250 hybrid).
 
As this latest investigation begins, Toyota car and truck owners were expected to receive this week certified letters from Toyota to confirm their vehicle’s presence on the recall list for sticky gas pedals and/or floor mat issues.  The letters direct owners to call their local dealership to make a repair appointment. Owners should not call Toyota’s toll-free customer service number since appointments are not taken on that line.  (The 2010 Prius Hybrid vehicle is not part of the recalls.)
 
Southern California dealerships have started to receive parts to fix sticky gas pedals, which Toyota says is the remedy for their vehicles that fall under that recall.  Several news organizations produced stories showing Toyota making repairs to recalled vehicles.
 
Consumers may contact Toyota regarding the automakers’ recalls and the Prius braking issue at 1-800-331-4331, the NHTSA vehicle safety hotline 1-888-327-4236, or go to Toyota’s USA Newsroom, http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/default.aspx  for updates.
 
The Auto Club reminds motorists that no Scion vehicles were affected by Toyota’s recall actions.  Also not affected by the recalls were, Sienna, Solara, Yaris, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, Land Cruiser and select Camry models, including Camry hybrids, which remain for sale. 
 
 

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Elaine Beno
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Beno.Elaine@aaa-calif.com